United Airlines released a new ad campaign today that offers heavy doses of Gerwshin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and brings back the classic “Fly the Friendly Skies” slogan that has been shelved since 1996. In a series of four made-for-TV ads, United returns to its aspirational roots, offering a welcome change from the drab ads embracing hard product that the Continental side of the airline had embraced since the merger. But the disconnect between ad and reality is readily apparent to every frequent flyer on United. Even as the airline tries to redefine the term friendly, United is left with a credibility gap that must be addressed in order for these ads to be effective.
Take a look at the ads–
Video #1 – Great Big World Friendly
This is my favorite of the four ads because the message is most succinct–wherever you are in the world, United is there for you. And in a sense, that is true–United flies to six continents and boasts an enviable route network to most major world cities. I can picture my own taxi rides to airports around the world to catch United flights and enjoyed the attention to detail in this aspirational ad.
Video #2 – Flyer Friendly
I liked this ad, but it was strange to see FAs walking down the aisles with trays of champagne in crystal stemware when United does not serve champagne in economy class and certainly does not use such glassware. Furthermore, who is going to take a drink when the orchestra is in the middle of a performance? This ad, though nicely done, highlights the disconnect from reality between this ad campaign and the reality of flying on United. More on that below.
Video #3 – Built Around You Friendly
This ad nicely highlights the improved economy class product on United–with Economy Plus, power ports and personal monitors. It also highlights the flat-bed seats United offers that I find quite comfortable and certainly illustrates an advantage of United over competitors like Asiana and Lufthansa that still lack horizontal lie-flat business class seats across much of its longhaul fleet.
Video #4 – wifi Friendly
This one made me chuckle because United is so far behind the competition when it comes to internet that to brand it as “wifi friendly” is laughable. But that will change and United cannot be faulted for starting the ad campaign a bit early. Still, it has been ages since I have been on a United flight equipped with wifi. The forecast does not look any different for my flights tomorrow.
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United has carefully re-defined the term friendly from and adjective meaning kind and pleasant to one meaning favorably disposed, as in United is a pet-friendly airline. Consequently, “Come fly the friendly skies” does not suggest pleasantry as much as it suggests comfort. That is clever, but also sad. It is clever in that it takes a classic and beloved slogan and retools it to fit the reality of airline travel in 2013, but I think most will miss this subtle change of meaning. What you will not find in the ads is much about United being friendly, in the kind and pleasant sense. That is unfortunate, because as each U.S. legacy carrier moves in the direction of lie-flat seats, wifi, enhanced IFE, and more legroom in economy, the only things that will distinguish carriers is price, loyalty program, or service–and the commercials ignore those three areas.
I shared of my mediocre flight on United last week to Newark and my return flight was no better, with few smiles, no personalized service, and no attention to detail. That must change or these ads will mean nothing, no matter what emphasis on friendly United tires to promote.
Make no mistake, these are good ads–and it is also nice to hear Matt Damon continuing to do voiceovers–but they fall on hollow ears right now for most who fly United regularly. I enjoyed them and I know others will too, but we also laugh, not due to the humor of the ads but due to the disconnect between ad and reality.
What are your thoughts on the new ad? Which is your favorite?